Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Thursday, January 04, 2007
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

But this isn't it.

Despite being in the "crime" section of yesterday's Times I think this one will leave your knotted locks knotted*, like quills upon a porpentine who has not a care in the world: 'Text-pest doctor harassed patient'

First a few caveats. This case is ongoing; we don't yet know the verdict. The story as given here may be incomplete or wrong. I am not seeking here to judge between the two sides of the case described. My interest is purely in the sociological or political questions it brings to prominence.

The facts as related by the Times are these. A doctor did a biopsy on a woman. He asked her for a phone number so he could communicate the result of the biopsy. Whether he did actually do so is subject to dispute: he did leave a message saying she was clear, but there seems some reason to believe that when he did so he could not yet have known the result. What is not in dispute is that he used this phone number to send four text messages asking her for a date.

Now the charge that he purported to tell her medical facts when he did not yet know them is a serious breach of medical ethics, if it turns out that is what happened. But it raises no political issue and I don't want to blog about it. What did strike me as worthy of comment was that all parties plus the reporter seem agreed that his four requests for "a drink, coffee, dinner, whatever you like, pleeeezz" were a sort of twenty-first century equivalent of the famous Victorian scandal of Colonel Valentine Baker.

As the doctor would say, pleeeezz.

The sections of the messages quoted display no lewdness. He literally asks her out for a coffee or dinner. I have nothing but sympathy for those people, either men or women, who find themselves in the terrifying position of being stalked. But in this case the woman was not even propositioned. The fact that there were four messages over two days smacks of pestering, but it could partly be explained by the fact that she did not reply; the third three messages seem at least 50% taken up with pleading for a reply, and much of the rest is apologising ("m sory 2 contact u like dat").

Sheesh, I've gone and done what I said I didn't want to do and got tied up with this specific case. Look, tone and circumstances can be everything in these cases and I don't know what they were. The age ratio of the two parties could make a difference, as could the level of apprehension the woman was under concerning her state of health. There is also the issue of the allegation that he made a medical statement that pretended to certainty he did not have: as I said, that is a serious charge. The same goes for his allegedly obtaining the phone number under a medical pretext and then using it for personal reasons. All in all, I definitely want to leave it to the General Medical Council hearing to decide which of these two parties is in the right.

However I do have an opinion on this: we have adopted a stricter code than ever the Victorians knew if for a doctor to ask a patient for a date (not sex, a date) in itself constitutes a career-destroying offence. And this is not the only case I've seen recently where something like that does seem to be the unspoken assumption. This standard is unsustainable. The situation of a doctor vis-à-vis his or her patient is not like that of a teacher and a pupil, in which one party is under the authority of the other, even assuming the pupil is above the age of consent. I read a touching little paragraph of local news a while ago concerning the golden wedding celebrations of a couple consisting of a doctor who met his wife-to-be when she was his patient. Is this to be forbidden? This all seems designed to force doctors into celibacy; a high proportion of all the people a doctor ever meets must surely be made up of his or her patients.

*Buy a comb, willya? I can't solve all your problems.